- New York City is by far one of the hottest legal markets in the U.S., with many corporations and legal firms calling it home.
- Essentially every legal practice specialty and type of firm is represented in the city.
- A legal recruiter may be the best option for those that want to lateral to a New York law firm because the legal market is so large and complex there.
New York City is known for many things – Broadway, the stock exchanges, and incredibly high-priced real estate. It is also home to 73 of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies. J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Verizon top the list of high-revenue companies headquartered in the city. For those attorneys seeking opportunities within this legal market, there are numerous opportunities to do so, including corporate law, real estate, finance, and international law. Lawyers in New York City will find many practice options in some of the area’s biggest industries, including healthcare, accommodations, and food services. New York also has a growing tech startup industry that’s bringing in engineers, developers, and innovators from across the globe along with lawyers to work on complex deals and disputes in the tech space.
Many people living in New York attend college and law school in the state. The state has multiple T14 law schools that attract law students from around the country—New York University, Columbia University, and Cornell University. Yet, even with these law schools, it is not possible for the big cities, especially New York City, to have enough access to well-qualified junior lawyers. That is why for those who wish to move to the area to practice law, there are typically numerous options available for top legal talent.
According to the American Bar Association, there are 95,005 lawyers living in New York County, which is the largest concentration of lawyers in any county in the US. The New York City Bar Association is extremely active and has 150 committees working on a diverse array of issues and policies related to the practice of law in the city. While Biglaw opportunities abound in New York City (see below), there are also tons of in-house exit opportunities to these firms’ largest clients.
The New York City economy is always one of the most robust in the country, and although it has a high cost of living, it does offer the entertainment, charm, and high quality of life that many want. The New York legal market has a reputation for its fast-paced, high-demand work culture, but many attorneys find this thrilling. With so much demand for well-qualified attorneys in the city, it is possible to work with a legal recruiter and find your place in the city.
Top law firms in New York City
New York is home to some of the largest law firms in the world. It continues to be one of the most important legal markets in the country, boasting a large number of AmLaw 100 members. AmLaw 100 firms employ about 21,000 lawyers in New York City alone.
Cravath, Swaine, & Moore has an illustrious history dating back to 1819 and only has one headquarters office in NYC and a second office in London. The Cravath System continue to shape the US legal market and the Cravath Scale continues to define the US legal market salary.
Watchell Lipton is an M&A leader in the New York market. Small by comparison to its Biglaw competitors, Watchell Lipton is one of the most elite law firms in the US. It maintains this reputation by having one sole office in NYC.
Davis Polk is one of the oldest law firms in New York. It specializes in securities/capital markets and has offices in major cities across the globe. Associates describe its culture as collegial and friendly.
With it comes to Biglaw firms in New York City, the top 10 by revenue for the most recent year were:
- Kirkland & Ellis
- Latham & Watkins
- DLA Piper
- Baker McKenzie
- White & Case
- Sidley Austin
- Ropes & Gray
- Hogan Lovells
- Morgan Lewis
These are all powerhouse firms paying Biglaw market salaries, and these firms—along with Cravath and Davis Polk—set the market standard for Biglaw associate compensation in markets across the country. Even outside of Biglaw, the salaries for lawyers living in New York are good—$167,000 on average for the state.
For those who are interested in moving to New York City, it may be possible to transfer within your current firm if it has offices here. If your current firm is not located here, you may still be able to switch to another firm in a lateral move.
Though there is no market quite like New York City when it comes to legal powerhouses, and there is competition for some of the firms here, it is possible to find positions available for many. For those who are junior associates, there are a number of entry-level positions available that are sure to be impressive. On the other hand, for mid-level and senior associates, the area has a lot of demand and often very few attorneys to fill all of that demand. Even through this, many firms continue to open their doors to new attorneys as they work to meet client demand. Demand for attorneys continues to grow even with such a large number of them working in this field. Not all law firms offer paralegals or legal secretaries for new roles, so make sure you do research on the firm before you get started. Sourcing candidates is often hard for law firms, which is why instead of throwing up job postings they invest their time in New York legal recruiters or headhunters to bring in the best lawyer resumes.
How to conduct a legal job search in New York City
For anyone that is considering a move to New York City, it is important to think about the value of using a legal recruiter to help you. Depending on your years of experience and practice areas, multiple jobs might be a potential fit for you. A recruiting firm can make it easier to find open positions in legal departments and other roles when you’re coming from out of state. Recruiters know the legal industry well and are familiar with the kinds of questions and concerns brought by legal professionals.
There are typically a few ways that attorneys lateral from firm to firm (whether switching geographic location or not):
- Staying at the same firm, moving cities
- Lateraling from Firm A to Firm B, staying in the same place
- Lateraling from Firm A to Firm B, moving cities.
If you’re staying within the same firm but want to switch cities, you may think the first step is to talk to HR at your firm, but I suggest that you hold off.
Good law firms are usually leanly staffed, and partners rely on the associates to perform the legal work. If you want to move to the New York office of your firm, you’ll need to work out how the move will work and who will take over the matters you’re already staffed on. You should look into whether you can continue working for the same partners from NYC.
Will you need to join a different practice group? Legal staffing is a delicate matter at AmLaw 100 firms, so feel out whether there is room for you to move. Once you’ve discussed it with the partners you work with, having human resources approve the transfer to NYC is probably the last step.
If you’re lateraling from Firm A to Firm B but planning on staying in New York, your legal job search is likely going to focus on asking around in your personal network, talking to people you’ve met in the city (e.g., from your section of the Bar, across the table, or alumni from your previous schools), and recruiters who can tell you about positions as they become available.
If you’re lateraling from Firm A to Firm B and moving to New York, you’ve got a more complicated task. Your job search will be aided by working with a legal search firm that can help you learn about the NYC legal market and the positions available in the city, including the practice groups that are hiring. A knowledgeable legal recruiter will be able to help you navigate the process of both switching firms AND moving to New York City.
Examples of lawyers who work with legal recruiters in New York City
Mid-level associate who wants to lateral up to a higher ranked firm
Joyce is a 3rd year associate at a midsize firm. She has gained valuable experience at her firm, but she is looking to move somewhere with better resources and prestige. A legal recruiter is helping Joyce find a position at an Am Law 50 firm in New York City where she can work on complex matters as a mid-level associate.
Lawyer who is moving to New York City from a different legal market
Jack is a junior associate in California who wants to move to a New York firm. He’s not familiar with the partners at the major law firms in New York City, so he’s using an experienced legal recruiter to expedite his transition to The Big Apple.
Senior associate seeking immediate partnership
Kate is a senior associate at her firm and is starting to realize that she might not be made partner when she’s up for it next year. She knows that a few of the largest firms in New York City are willing to make lateral hires equity partners within 1-2 years and give them counsel positions immediately upon joining the firm. Kate is using a legal recruiter to help her advance to partner as quickly as possible as a lateral hire.
If you need more information on the best legal recruiters in New York City, send me a message using the site’s chat button stating briefly that you’re on the lookout for a firm placement in New York City. I’ll keep all your information confidential and get back to you quickly with some recommendations.
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Joshua Holt is a lawyer with 10 years of experience in Biglaw working at the country’s largest law firms, culminating in his work at a Vault 30 law firm in the private equity mergers & acquisition group. He has extensive experience counseling associates in lateraling to a firm with a better fit, helping associates make partner and working with law students navigating on-campus and call-back interviews.